The Liberty won their first Commissioners Cup two days ago and the trophy made some history for one of the WNBA’s original franchises. The Liberty, then owned by James Dolan, went to the W’s Finals four times in in 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2002, but never held the hardware. Joe and Clara Wu Tsai have owned the Liberty and Nets for five years but until Tuesday night haven’t felt the thrill of victory. (They are familiar with the agony of defeat, however.) So, the franchise and its owners came away from their 19-point win over the Las Vegas Aces with the WNBA Commissioner’s Cup, a different franchise, more confident about a successful future.
The opponent tonight as the Libs go for their eighth straight win? Due to the vagaries of the WNBA schedule, the Liberty didn’t have to leave their Las Vegas hotel (except maybe to order up more champagne.) They’ll be playing the Aces for the third time in the last 10 days, this one a regular season contest, and trying to once again shrink the gap between the two superteams’ W-L records. The Aces after their strong start are now 27-3, the Liberty 24-6.
Where to follow the game
For the locals, the game will be on the YES Network once again, For anyone with an Amazon Prime subscription, you can watch there too. The game is a late one, starting at 10:00 p.m. ET.
Han Xu is listed as questionable with a foot issue. She recently returned from competition in China.
No Candace Parker as she continues to recover from surgery. Riquna Williams is away from the team following her recent arrest on domestic violence and weapons charges.
Vegas won game one, 98-81, on June 30 leading wire-to-wire in Nevada. Then things changed dramatically when New York captured game two on August 7 at Barclays, blowing out the Aces by 39 before taking the Commissioner’s Cup by 19 in Vegas two nights ago.
To say the Liberty has dominated the last two games would be a understatement. New York has treated Vegas like a basement dweller in the standings, not the team with the W’’s best record. The disparity was particularly shocking in rebounding and 3-point shooting.
The gap in boards has been telling. Jonquel Jones, the Cup MVP, finished with 15 rebounds in the Cup game and as our Lucas Kaplan wrote, overall the game “produced one of the craziest stats you’ll find from a single game in a long time: The Las Vegas Aces grabbed four rebounds in the second half. As a team. In total.” Final count: Liberty 49, Aces 28. In the 39-point drubbing at Barclays, there was a similar gap, with the Liberty grabbing 48 boards to the Aces 22.
With Sabrina Ionescu, the W leader in threes with 101, and Breanna Stewart, who can score in any dimension, the Liberty has been a strong shooting team all season. Then, in the Cup game, Marine Johannes, best known for her extraordinary passing game, hit five 3-pointers in seven attempts and defensive ace Kayla Thornton hit 2-of-4. That more than made up for some tough shooting stats from Sab (4-of-14 overall, 3-of-8 from deep) and Stewie (4-of-16, 2-of-5). If Johannes in particular can keep that up, the Libs will be tough to beat on any night.
Player to watch: Jackie Young
If the Aces were looking for a bright spot after Tuesday’s loss, Jackie Young, their All-Star shooting guard, qualified. She led the Aces with 16 points, getting baskets here and there as she shot 7-of-19, 2-of-8 overall. That was a better performance than All-WNBA A’ja Wilson who the Liberty once again handcuffed — nine points on 2-of-10 shooting.
Young, the top pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft, has had some ups and downs in her career but has a proven ability to bounce back when things get tough. Along with Wilson and Kelsey Plum, it will be up to her to show the hometown folks that New York doesn’t own them.
From the Vault
Las Vegas doesn’t have an NBA franchise — yet, but the last few months, it’s been the center of the basketball world. Sin City has been the home of the NBA Summer League, Team USA’s training camp and the WNBA Cup. In December, the NBA Cup Finals will take place there as well. But Vegas NBA history is longer than fans might think. Back in 1983-84, the Jazz played 11 games in Las Vegas. The city’s sports books had to agree not to take bets on the Jazz which they did. (How quaint.)
In the Jazz’s final game in the desert, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hit a skyhook to become the all-time NBA scorer, topping Wilt Chamberlain, a record many thought would never be broken...
Expect more history when the NBA returns on a full-time basis, probably in 2025-26.
More reading: Swish Appeal, The Strickland, The Local W, New York Daily News, New York Post, The Athletic. Fansided, Just Women’s Sports, SI All Knicks, Winsidr, Her Hoop Stats, CBS Sports, and The Next